Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Very Specific Fear

(I meant to add some of this entry to my previous blog post, but I see now that was a little long anyway, so probably better that I forgot!)

I don’t have any phobias, really, unless you count anxiety at having to walk into a room full of complete strangers and make small talk for five hours over cocktails. Or I didn’t think I did, anyway. But I discovered that I have a fear of heights ... sometimes.

High balconies don’t faze me. I can jump up and down on the glass floor at the CN Tower without batting an eyelash. I went happily ziplining in Costa Rica, hundreds of feet in the air, without so much as a twinge of fear.

Put me on a Mayan temple, though – one of those that have very narrow, very steep stone steps from a high top platform – and I’m petrified. I discovered this about 3 years ago when I went gallivanting around Mexico, Belize and Guatemala with Shelley. Going up the Jaguar Temple at Tikal was fine; getting down again was an exercise in sheer terror. (And there are no elevators in Mayan tempIes; advanced as they were, they didn’t think of that.) I think Shelley just laughed at me inching my way down the steps with quivering knees; she’s heartless that way.

The other time that a fear of heights rears its ugly head, for me, is riding down chairlifts. I’m used to going up, having had lots of practice on ski hills over the years, so that didn’t faze me at Cerro Catedral (where I went Wednesday) or Cerro Campanario (where I went yesterday). But put me in a chairlift going DOWN the hill, with distressingly hard rock and barren earth below instead of nice soft cushy snow, and I’m terrified. It didn’t help that the chairlift at Cerro Campanario rattled so hard that I was convinced that bolts were working themselves loose, or that it kept stopping for no apparent reason and left my chair swinging wildly in the fierce wind. I gripped that chairlift bar so tightly I nearly cut off circulation in my fingers.

I decided at first to walk down Cerro Campanario instead of take the chairlift, to avoid just that situation. That was fine, even though it was windy and rainy and the path was turning to mud ... until I realized that the trail had taken a sharp turn AWAY from the direction of the road. And that I wasn’t actually sure it went to the road at all; it could’ve been going to some remote mountain refuge 14 miles away for all I knew. So I sighed heavily and hiked back up, rationalizing that it was good exercise for my legs anyway.

I survived the harrowing chairlift ride, dear reader (but then you knew that, as I wouldn’t otherwise be writing here). And fortunately neither of these situations arise frequently in my day-to-day life, so my particular phobia is not a debilitating one. If I ever get to El Mirador in Guatemala, though – with the tallest temple in the Mayan world – I’ll have to brace myself. There’s no way I’m NOT going up it, so I’ll just have to figure out the “down” part of it. Perhaps I can hire a brawny Kiwi backpacker to carry me down ... hmmm.

Anyway, now that I’ve unburdened myself, I should tell you too that I’m leaving Bariloche tomorrow, heading on to Puerto Madryn on the coast in what is nicknamed “Welsh Patagonia” because of the number of immigrant from that particular part of the world. Bydd yn ddrwg gennyf i adael Bariloche ... but I’m also happy to hit the road again! (That’s Welsh, by the way, courtesy of an online translation site. Thought I'd get in the spirit of the thing. “I’ll be sorry to leave Bariloche” ... at least that’s what it’s supposed to mean. If the website lied, and I accidentally said something rude, I apologize to any Welsh speakers who may be reading this.)

My bus is at 6 pm tomorrow, and will be my first experience of overnight bus travel in South America. I’m told they do it very well, so the 14 hours should pass quickly enough. They will even feed me, and give me a seat that reclines all the way so I can actually sleep. I’ll take a picture if I remember so I can show you.

I’m going to say goodbye to Bariloche properly tomorrow with one of the things it is best known for: chocolate. There are 3 things, mainly, that Bariloche is famous for: skiing, trekking and chocolate. I figure I’ve done enough of #2 (and would have done #1, were it the season), so I can indulge in #3 to my heart’s content. Er, stomach’s content. Whatever.

Chocolaterias abound in this town (and I love that there is a specific word for chocolate stores in Spanish), and I’m going to check out a few. I had chocolate ice cream at Rapa Nui on Friday (see picture to left), but I also want to try their hot chocolate with chilli, and go to a couple other stores that are supposed to be mouth-wateringly good. I’d offer to bring some back for you all to try, but I don’t think chocolate would survive 3 months on the road. (Plus I don’t think I’d have the willpower to get it all the way back uneaten.)

Talk to you again from Puerto Madryn! Keep your fingers crossed for me that the bus is as comfortable as they say, otherwise it`s going to be a long 14 hours.


  1. I hear ya. I learned about my fear of heights while climbing a lookout tree in Australia – one of those with the metal rungs kind of wrapping around it like a spiral ladder? I freaked out. I too can do the CN Tower, gondolas, etc. (and actually, I'm fine on chairlifts) - but all of a sudden when the thought occurred to me that I could plunge off this huge tree, my finely honed self-preservation instinct kicked in and I freaked out. I quivered my way back down to the bottom while Steve went gallivanting on up without a moment's thought.
    It was weird. I have never, ever been afraid of heights before that moment. But any exposed height - no barriers and fences and safety straps - makes me terrified!

  2. I think the key is to go down backwards, so you can't see the distance to the ground...or, the brawny backpacker is a good alternative too...;)